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Merit pay and wage compression with productivity differences and uncertainty

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  • Gross, Till
  • Guo, Christopher
  • Charness, Gary

Abstract

This paper experimentally investigates wage setting and effort choices in a multi-worker setting when there is heterogeneity in worker productivity and managers’ perception of this productivity is imperfect. Worker ability is assigned via an aptitude test and, in an innovative design, manager uncertainty concerning this ability is related to the manager's own test performance. We propose a merit-pay hypothesis, that higher-ability workers will reduce their effort if they are not paid more than coworkers with lower ability, but not vice versa. Based on a simple model, we also predict that the higher the uncertainty about employee ability levels, the more managers compress wages between perceived high- and low-ability workers. We find strong experimental support for both hypotheses.

Suggested Citation

  • Gross, Till & Guo, Christopher & Charness, Gary, 2015. "Merit pay and wage compression with productivity differences and uncertainty," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 233-247.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:117:y:2015:i:c:p:233-247
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2015.06.009
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    Cited by:

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    2. Cappelen, Alexander W. & Mollerstrom, Johanna & Reme, Bjørn-Atle & Tungodden, Bertil, 2019. "A Meritocratic Origin of Egalitarian Behavior," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 9/2019, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
    3. Gary Charness & Ramón Cobo-Reyes & Juan A. Lacomba & Francisco Lagos & Jose Maria Perez, 2016. "Social comparisons in wage delegation: experimental evidence," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 19(2), pages 433-459, June.
    4. Charness, Gary & Gneezy, Uri & Henderson, Austin, 2018. "Experimental methods: Measuring effort in economics experiments," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 149(C), pages 74-87.
    5. Mohsen Javdani & Brian Krauth, 2020. "Job satisfaction and co‐worker pay in Canadian firms," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 53(1), pages 212-248, February.
    6. Lan Guo & Theresa Libby & Xiaotao (Kelvin) Liu & Yu Tian, 2020. "Vertical Pay Dispersion, Peer Observability, and Misreporting in a Participative Budgeting Setting," Contemporary Accounting Research, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 37(1), pages 575-602, March.
    7. Becker, Johannes & Hopp, Daniel & Süß, Karolin, 2020. "How altruistic is indirect reciprocity? - Evidence from gift-exchange games in the lab," VfS Annual Conference 2020 (Virtual Conference): Gender Economics 224592, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    8. Aurélie BONEIN, 2014. "Social Comparison and Peer effects with Heterogeneous Ability," Economics Working Paper Archive (University of Rennes 1 & University of Caen) 201411, Center for Research in Economics and Management (CREM), University of Rennes 1, University of Caen and CNRS.
    9. Gary Bolton & Peter Werner, 2016. "The influence of potential on wages and effort," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 19(3), pages 535-561, September.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Wage inequality; Wage compression; Gift-exchange game; Reciprocity; Fairness; Merit pay;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects

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